Monday Mapping: Test Prep without the Multiple Choice

When my district first started forcing Test Prep sessions on us for state testing, we had free reign to design those sessions as we pleased.  Knowing my students needed the most practice in analyzing primary sources and in evaluating images, I started creating assignments for them to practice those skills while reviewing our course content.  Years later, the shift moved toward practicing only multiple choice, but in the end, the benefits of practicing with open ended response prompts are evident!

The Benefits of Open Response
Open ended responses allow students to think through their answers, and more importantly, it teaches them to think before they begin to write their response.

Another, greater, value is allowing students the opportunity to actually look at the source, making judgments on their own first, before reading possible answers in a multiple choice set.  This turns on the analysis process in our brains, and helps us to recall skills and content as we step through the stages of thought.

However, the greatest benefit to prepping with primary source analysis materials is the fact that students are practicing so many skills in one.

Skills to Practice with Primary Sources
Addressing standards can be a challenge in the Social Studies classroom, but in using primary sources students can do so much more:
  • Examine images
  • Read and evaluate quotes
  • Determine meaning and data in charts and graphs
  • Use maps for navigation and evaluation
  • Read passages to help them better understand the cause and effect that is so relevant in any social studies course.
Take a look at my Primary Source Materials for great reviews of U.S. and World History, Geography, Government, and more.  Don't just prep your students for filling in bubbles; teach them instead how to truly see and evaluate any source to understand it's meaning and significance. And start that investigation with primary sources!

For a very comprehensive review for U.S. History, take a look at this Amazing U.S. History Primary Source Analysis Bundle

Teaching to the test does not need to include repeated multiple choice practice. Instead use these ideas for open response questioning and primary source analysis in your middle or high school classroom! #teaching

Happy Teaching!
Michele Luck

Monday Mapping: Movies for Test Prep and Review... Really?

When people talk about movies being shown in classes, I usually cringe.  My first thoughts go to those teachers who sit at their desks all year, never actually teaching, and only showing movies to inform their students.  Sadly, those types of teachers have created a negative impression of something that can actually be a valuable tool in the classroom.

Many movies actually provide incredible stories that can help our student visualize history.  When you add in the entertainment factor, students are much more likely to pay attention, and to remember what you've been trying to tell them all along!  Unfortunately, on the flip side, many movies are also horribly inaccurate.  But this is okay!

Using movies can serve many purposes, IF done correctly, and only if done infrequently.  And as test prep and testing take over classrooms in the spring season, movies can help to review content already taught in a new and different method.

  • DO tie it to content: Use movies that address the content you are teaching, and emphasize the facts over the fiction the movie shares.
    • Schindler's List is filled with great information on the Holocaust and persecution of the Jews.  Add Nuremberg (the TNT version), and you have a great review of the Holocaust and the trials following. 
  • DO insert commentary: Stop the movie after significant scenes to clarify key topics or to insert content that is missing.
    • Mona Lisa Smile is a great movie that addresses many questions about equality in the 20th century.  Stop and add in the legislation passed in the same time periods to enhance the content significance. 
  • DO encourage discussion: Review scenes and ask students their thoughts on the topics addressed.  Encourage controversy and debate!
    • Saving Private Ryan has incredible scenes depicting WWII, but it also addresses very sensitive subjects on war.  Stop and talk about them, and be open to accepting varying perspectives. 
  • DO assign tasks: Use viewing guides or note-taking tools for movies.  It's still a class, not just a social event!
    • Avatar is an incredible movie for reviewing Imperialism, but the value is lost if that direct comparison is not made.  Use guides to direct your students' attention and to address the correlation. 
  • DO use movies for life lessons: Some movies provide valuable life lessons that cannot be taught with words or worksheets.
    • One of my favorite movies is The Emperor's Club with Kevin Kline.  It teaches both students and teachers some valuable lessons about learning.  It's worth the watch, especially at testing time!   
  • DO address inaccuracies: Teach students to evaluate what they see... What do they know is inaccurate or exaggerated?
    • Show Forest Gump just before testing?  Of course!  But do so as a lesson on the inaccuracies in movies.  Allow students to keep their notebooks on hand to identify and describe the misinformation.  
  • DO show for comparison: Compare movies to movies, movies to primary sources, or movies to lecture notes.  What is similar?  What is different?
    • How do Roots and Amistad tell the same stories?  What differences do they depict? 
  • DO use movies as an analysis tool: Critical thinking and analysis are vital in everything we see and do in our modern world.  Analyze the movies as you would any document or image.
    • How better can you describe the social and political tension of the 80s than by showing The Breakfast Club and Red Dawn?   Analyze them separately and together for a clearer understanding of the decade.
  • DO show movies for visual lessons: Reach your visual learners with movies and enhance learning for all of your other learners.
    • Do you remember how we watched and ENJOYED Schoolhouse Rock when we were kids?  They still have the same power for our youngest generation!  Try it and see! 
  • DO NOT use movies for time-filling: This is never a good idea.  It teaches students that your class time is not valuable, and that everything we see in the movies is real.
    • There is no value in any movie (or lesson) that has no purpose!
Like any other tool you use in your classroom, movies are what you make them.  Don't simply watch movies - TEACH them!

Want to read more?  Take a look at this website with ideas and tools for using movies in your classroom!

Take a look at these dos and don'ts for teaching with movies for reviewing content in the middle or high school classroom.

Happy Teaching!

Michele Luck

Bright Ideas Blog Hop: Playing Games for Year End Review

As we get closer to the end of the year, and to testing season, it's important to review.  But no rule says review cannot be fun!  Here's an idea that I used in my classroom year after year, and it's loved by all grades and all levels of students!  Turn your classroom into a Human Game Board, and let your students play!

Creating a game board is easy!
  1. Move all of the desks and tables to the sides of the classroom.
  2. Layout game tiles (numbers, letters, or blank pieces or card stock) to identify the game board direction.  Place one per floor tile to allow enough student space.
  3. Add in some bonus or penalty tiles for greater competition. 
  4. Group students into teams, but rotate out players for the game board each round.
  5. Use a regular set of dice or purchase a big, foam set at Dollar Tree for bigger fun.
  6. Start the game!  Offer tiered rewards for each team as they finish.
  7. Encourage fun competition, and your students will learn without realizing it!
Creating the review questions can be more challenging!  Here are a few ideas:
  • Use a unit study guide, asking for term definitions, concept clues, or other responses.
  • Print task cards for students to draw, requiring they complete the task before moving on to the next square.
  • Set up questions on the board, each covered by a flip up card that matches each game board space.
  • Allow teams to create the review questions ahead of time, and rotate the teams questions for all to use.
  • Organize stations or centers at corner locations, where tasks or skills must be reviewed by the whole team before they can progress in the game.
  • Set up a Jeopardy board, allowing students to pick their question value to equate to the progress they can make on the board (5 steps for $500).
Most importantly, have fun!  And encourage your students to have fun while they learn.  It's truly the best way to review the year.

If this idea works for your classroom, please follow me on Twitter or Facebook!

And for other Bright Ideas, be sure to check out the other bloggers in this link-up.  You can choose the topics and grade levels that most interest you to find amazing ideas.  Thanks for visiting!

Happy Hopping!

Michele Luck

Secondary Smorgasbord: Curious to see What's Growin' - Words of the World

The Secondary Smorgasbord Blog Hop is on again, and this month's theme is "Curious to see What's Growin'" in our Secondary classrooms!  Since I'm not in the classroom this year, I decided to tell you a bit about my latest project - A series of Primary Source Analysis Activities based on Words of the World.

Having taught both U.S. History and World History for years, I know it can sometimes be challenging to introduce authentic world pieces into your classrooms that will not be repeated again from the U.S. perspective the following year, especially when dealing with worldwide events where the U.S. also played a prominent role.  This led me to seek out primary source pieces that can give students that world perspective, while still addressing the topics and events on the course curriculum map.
So far, I've had a ton of fun researching topics such as the Romanov family execution, the letters from Gandhi to Hitler, personal accounts of the Ferdinand assassination, first hand descriptions of the Irish Potato Famine, and so much more.    I'm hoping to make this a course-long bundle like I currently have for U.S. History, but that means I still have a long way to go.  Thankfully, I love reading the history of our world, so it will be a fun trip for me!

Take a look at "What's Growin'" at my friends' blogs, and be sure to visit Desktop Learning Adventures and Meatballs in the Middle, our blog hop sponsors!

An InLinkz Link-up

Happy Teaching!

Michele Luck

Monday Mapping: Test Prep - Do I Have To?

Once Spring Break is over, many administrators are forced by their district leaders to start encouraging their teachers to prep for testing.  It's a vicious cycle, but ends with your principal peeking into your classroom each day to see how you are addressing those standards and reinforcing the skills your students will need to master the multiple choice.

For years, I was a test prep holdout.  I refused to waste my precious class time at the end of the year to stop everything and review.  But now, most do not have the liberty, or the tenure, to stand against the swift moving test waters.

So, how can you test prep while still teaching the valuable lessons?  Here's a few ideas:

Prepping for the big test does not have to be a "stop everything and review from start to finish" process.  It can actually greatly benefit students IF it is done as part of the natural flow of the class content.  In a Social Studies course, review should always be taking place as we move from one unit to the next.  History is a series of events, so why not tie them all together for the end of the year.

Oh, and for your administrator's benefit, tie a pretty bow around your lesson by curtly adding "TEST PREP" to your daily outline on the board.  In the end, true learning will show itself with positive test results.  Try it and see!

Need some great review (tie it up) lessons and activities?  Take a look at these ideas:

Early American Wars Comparison
Walk Through the People of World History Activity
Review Full Course (Do a slide a day to connect to current events!)
I hated interrupting my lesson plans for standardized test prep. Click to read these tips for continuing your lessons while still meeting your administrations testing expectations.

Happy Teaching!

Michele Luck

Monday Mapping: National Poetry Month

"I think that I shall never see/ A poem as lovely as a tree..."

In my 7th grade English class, I had to memorize the classic poem by Joyce Kilmer.  Honestly, the first two lines are the only I can remember now (many years later), but that poem, and the experience of learning it, made a great impression on my life.

Poetry is often a joke.  Many see it as only sappy love endearments, and never take the time to visualize the words penned by the greats.  They do not examine Whitman for his sarcasm, or evaluate Dickenson for her spirituality.  They overlook Countee Cullen's details on the African-American experience or Claude McCay's immigrant tales.  And they seldom enjoy the escape through writing poetry, a tool so important to those who do!

April is National Poetry Month.  At, you can see the details and goals of the Academy of American Poet's organization's venture, and you can also gather resources and ideas to help your students see the relevance, importance, and elegance of poetry in their own lives.

And poetry is a tool that can be used in any subject area and for any grade level.  It allows creativity, while incorporating fact.  And it can set the stage for great conversation and evaluation of information. 

But more importantly, for me, it is the way I deal.  I write, not just poetry, but to express my thoughts and my feelings.  And poetry has documented my life over the years.  It's helped me avoid (and eventually handle) hardships and loss, it's guided me through challenges, and it's allowed me to celebrate life's joys.  Any my daughter is one of my favorite poets, never afraid to share her thoughts and feelings through pen.  Her blog can bring me to tears or laughter, or sometimes both!

Hopefully, it's not a lost art! Try my Poem Templates for Any Class!
Happy Teaching!

Michele Luck

Quick Thought Thursday: Gullible Learning

The Merrium-Webster Dictionary defines gullible as "easily fooled or cheated; quick to believe something that is not true.  Unfortunately, with such easy access to information on the internet in our schools, many students are becoming more and more gullible every day.  Sadly, this is not only affecting academic success and student intelligence, but is fueling the divide between individuals, separating our society thanks to the rapid spread of misinformation.

I recently saw an article link in my Facebook feed, and the poster's comment included a quote that was very disturbing.  The words actually reminded me of many accounts from the German Holocaust and the treatment of the Jews by Nazi Germany.  I immediately clicked to read more.  The article discussed viewpoints, and included quotes from a presidential candidate's father, and suggested that some Americans (a specific population) should be placed in camps and shot if they tried to leave.  An image was strategically placed at the top of the page (with credits to CNN), and the entire site could easily be mistaken for a "reputable" news outlet. 
This is the difference between students of my generation, and those of our current.  Having learned many years ago that you never gather all of your facts from one book, magazine, or journal (yes, no Internet back then), I always question any source for its validity.  I also learned the old adage, "If something is too good (or bad) to be true, it probably is."  Translate that advice to fit modern times, and we can say that if something is too extreme, it is probably created only to cause a stir.

And that's exactly what satire websites are doing.  They are deliberately creating misinformation, not to spur thought or conversation, but to mislead this younger (and some older) generation into anger over the words on the page.  This only deepens the divides between us. 

Think about it.  How often do you see a post claiming something extreme has been said or done by atheists? Christians? Muslims?  Or politically?  Democrats? Republicans?  What about culturally?  Asians? Europeans?

Do you stop and think (with anger building in your throat), "Wow, I can't believe they'd say/do that!" Or do you question the validity of the report in the first place?  Do you investigate?

According to the American Psychological Association, "Searching the Internet for information may make people feel smarter than they actually are..." 
 “The Internet is such a powerful environment, where you can enter any question, and you basically have access to the world’s knowledge at your fingertips,” said lead researcher Matthew Fisher, a fourth-year doctoral candidate in psychology at Yale University. “It becomes easier to confuse your own knowledge with this external source. When people are truly on their own, they may be wildly inaccurate about how much they know and how dependent they are on the Internet.”
See the full article here:

And here's the scariest part for me... Our youngest students are learning to depend on the Internet for their information.  They are being introduced to it before preschool, and are taught that it is a reliable source.  They seldom visit a library or write up index cards where they can layout and compare the varying viewpoints on any topic.  Even worse, they do not care (or are not taught to care) about the difference.  An answer is an answer, question done!

Oh... that article that prompted this post... It was a satire site with little tabs at the very top (hidden under the picture for only the really curious eye to find) offering the option to "Show Facts" or "Hide Facts" as you read.  Of course, the facts are hidden to start, but clicking that tab highlights the true words they used for their creative writing that followed.  And it worked.  The post I saw on Facebook collected thousands of likes, was shared by hundreds, and had too many hate-filled comments to count.

And yet, when I teach about the Holocaust and the persecution of groups in Germany, I am always asked, "How could people fall for all that?"  Hmmm... I wonder.
Here's my Holocaust Unit that may help your students learn to question... everything!

Happy Thinking!

Michele Luck